R. I. P. Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on July 11, 2020 by telescoper

Sad news today of the death at the age of 85 of legendary footballer and manager Jack Charlton.

The tributes to Jack Charlton here in Ireland focus on his time as manager of the Republic of Ireland national team, during which he produced many great results, including qualifying for two World Cups (in 1990 and 1994). Ireland got to the quarter-finals in 1990, which was an amazing achievement. Jack Charlton created some marvellous memories and became like an adopted son in the hearts of Irish folk, spending a lot of his time here in his retirement. He had a house in Ballina (County Mayo) and enjoyed going fishing. I suspect he rarely had to buy a drink in the local pubs! As a fellow Geordie living in Ireland I can understand very well why he loved it here.

He gave up the house in Ireland a few years ago when his health started to fail and moved to Stamfordham in Northumberland, the County of his birth. Jack was actually born in Ashington and was the nephew of legendary Newcastle United centre-forward Jackie Milburn.

As a player he was an old-school centre half: tall and tough and not prone to try anything fancy. He knew his limitations as a footballer and concentrated on what he could do well. He spent his entire professional playing career of 21 years at Leeds United. He wasn’t capped for England until he was 29 and a year later he was a member of the team that won the 1966 World Cup, as was his brother Bobby.

I remember an interview with Jack Charlton during which he recalled asking manager Sir Alf Ramsay why he had been picked for the England team when there were many better players than him around. Ramsay’s reply was that he didn’t always pick the best players, he picked the best team. What I think he meant by that is that he saw Jack’s steadiness as a providing an ideal blend in the centre of the defence balance to the less conventional Bobby Moore.

My own memories of Jack Charlton are dominated by his time as manager of Newcastle United between 1984 and 1985; see the picture, which is from this time, including Peter Beardsley (left) and Chris Waddle (right). I was a student at Cambridge at this time and there was quite a large Newcastle United Supporters’ Club of which I was a member. We travelled to quite a few games in the 84/85 season. The Club Secretary wrote a letter to Jack Charlton inviting him to visit us for a dinner and speech. We couldn’t even offer him travel expenses so I assumed he would just ignore the request, but he didn’t. He actually wrote a very nice letter politely declining the invitation but thanking us for our support and good wishes. He also reminded us not to neglect our studies because of football as he regretted not having had “much of an education”.

It’s worth mentioning that 1984/5 was the time of the Miners’ Strike during which Jack Charlton was a staunch supporter of the Miners. He even lent his car to help miners on flying pickets. He was rather left-wing generally, actually.

Jack Charlton brought to football management the same approach he had brought to his own playing. It was by focusing on doing the basics well that he was able to get outstanding results using limited resources. He wouldn’t have been a good manager of a huge club full of luxury players, but in his niche he was superb.

As a person Jack Charlton was as strong-minded and uncompromising as he was as a player and a manager, but he was also down to earth, completely unpretentious, funny and self-deprecating, and as honest as the day is long.

Rest in peace, Jack Charlton (1935-2020)

Poppies in July – Sylvia Plath

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on July 10, 2020 by telescoper

Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?

You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns

And it exhausts me to watch you
Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.

A mouth just bloodied.
Little bloody skirts!

There are fumes I cannot touch.
Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?

If I could bleed, or sleep! –
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!

Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,
Dulling and stilling.

But colorless. Colorless.

by Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

 

The R in Ireland

Posted in Covid-19 with tags , , , on July 9, 2020 by telescoper

I was playing about with different ways of presenting the Covid-19 data I’ve been collecting here to make the trends clearer. This is what the daily confirmed cases and reported deaths look like if smoothed with a simple 7-day moving average and plotted on a log-linear scale:

This confirms something I’ve suspected over the last couple of weeks: that the number of confirmed cases has been edging upwards. This is not so clear in the raw counts, but is suggested: the smoothing makes this easier to see by reducing the noise and removing any weekend reporting artefacts:

This recent upward trend is consistent with the latest estimates of the basic reproduction number R that suggest it has crept up to around unity.

The number of cases per day remains low and confined to particular clusters. Hopefully contact tracing and isolation will prevent the increase getting out of hand.

It seems about two thirds (15 out of 23) of the new cases are associated with travel, though, so any loosening of restrictions on overseas travel would be very unwise.

The maximum age of any of the new cases reported yesterday is 44 and 77% are under 25. Perhaps its younger people who are less likely to observe social distancing.

I worry a bit that Ireland may be unlocking too quickly and people may be getting a bit complacent about the situation.

This is not over.

Open Contact Tracing

Posted in Covid-19 with tags , , , on July 9, 2020 by telescoper

I was interested to see in the news this week   that Ireland’s Covid-19 contact tracing app has been released and is now available for download. According to the HSE it has been downloaded over a million times in the last few days. I haven’t downloaded it myself (yet) but I probably will.

One of the interesting things about this app is that it cost €850,000 (which is about £760K at today’s exchange rate). The UK’s attempt to produce a similar bit of software has so far cost over £11M for an app that doesn’t exist. It seems a rather similar situation to the £50M paid for ferries that didn’t exist.

“Where has that money gone?”, I hear you ask. The answer is “I don’t know”, but it’s probably been pocketed by friends of Mr Cummings.

But UK residents needn’t fear. Not only is the Irish Covid-19 tracker app free to download and I’m told it also works on the other side of the Irish Sea. Not only that, but  the source code is also freely available on Github.

This app does of course raise genuine concerns about data protection, though perhaps not as great as it would if the data was being handed to friends of Mr Cummings. I was amused yesterday however to see usual conspiracy theorists expressing their fears about what would happen to their data if they downloaded the app on – of all places – Facebook.

 

Cricket Lovely Cricket!

Posted in Cricket, Music with tags , , on July 8, 2020 by telescoper

How great it is to see the return of Test Match cricket to England and the comforting familiarity it brings of sitting around not watching any play because of the pouring rain and Stygian gloom.

There may not have been much cricket at Southampton today (lovely or otherwise) but I couldn’t resist sharing this bit of West Indies cricketing nostalgia in calypso form, vintage 1950, by Lord Beginner..

Branding versus Science

Posted in Education with tags , , , on July 8, 2020 by telescoper

There’s an interesting piece here by the famous Professor Moriarty bemoaning the way universities try to impose corporate branding on materials used by academics, e.g. by forcing us to use `approved’ powerpoint templates.

My main objection to these is that they tend to be very cluttered with logos and other messaging that detract from the presentation of scientific material. My usual approach therefore is to use just the university’s template for the front page, and then revert to a plainer style for the rest of the talk, usually without headers or footers or logos or background. That is of course unless I’m doing talks specifically on University business such as on Open Day talks when I need to explain things like course structure, e.g…

A more fundamental issue, however, is that scientists tend to identify as scientists rather than as marketing representatives for a given university or other institution. Physicists, for example, often work collaboratively in teams across many institutions and consequently see themselves as members of such a team first and employees of a given institution second. When they give talks to schoolkids they are much more likely to be doing so to communicate an enthusiasm for the discipline than their institution (although of course these are not mutually exclusive). It’s unlikely that the quality of the logos will be the factor that determines whether such a talk is successful…

Anyway, I’m interested however to know what the general feeling is about these, so here’s a poll that is neither particularly scientific nor specifically branded:

Getting Back to Work

Posted in Covid-19, Maynooth with tags , , on July 7, 2020 by telescoper

It’s Consultation Day here in Maynooth, which is when students can get some feedback on the exam results released last week and also discuss what they may need to do in terms of repeating assessments next month.

A few minutes ago I took a short break from dealing with such things to make a cup of coffee and I thought I’d provide an update on the processes going on to allow people to return to work. Signs went up on the outside doors to the Science Building last week.

The furniture in the Foyer area has been rearranged to facilitate social distancing…

The Department of Theoretical Physics will be operating a two-way system, with people sticking to the left of the corridors. People came to yesterday to stick the signs on the floor.

Fortunately the corridors in the Department are just about wide enough to maintain social distancing. If people pass each other coming in different directions their encounter will only be transient anyway, which is of low risk.

The computer room (not shown) will have a one-way system so students and staff will enter through one door and leave through the other. We will also have to take half the machines out of use for social distancing purposes, but that should be manageable.

Elsewhere in the Science building in order to avoid people passing each other on the (rather narrow) stairs there is one set for up and another for down.

Social distancing is being enforced in the other facilities too…

That’ll do for now. Time to get back to work.

R.I.P. Ennio Morricone (1928-2020)

Posted in Film, Music with tags , , on July 6, 2020 by telescoper

I heard the sad news this morning that legendary composer Ennio Morricone has passed away at the age of 91. Morricone will be remembered not only for the music he himself created for films but on the huge influence he had on other composers and indeed on cinema generally.

I’ve posted this piece before but I make no apology for posting it again as a tribute to the Maestro. It’s the climactic final shoot-out from Sergio Leone’s iconic Spaghetti Western* The Good The Bad And The Ugly, featuring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach, respectively, together with superbly innovative (and very complex) music on the soundtrack from Morricone. It was the guitarist Alessandro Alessandroni (who also did the whistling on the soundtrack) producing that unforgettable twangy sound with a hint of scordatura. I also think this is the first time any film composer had used gunshots as part of the score…

*These films are way better than was generally appreciated at the time of their release.

Update: I just love this response to an efflux of babble…

Memories of Italia 90

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2020 by telescoper

Twitter reminded me that 30 years ago yesterday (4th July 1990) was the date of the semi final between England and Germany in the 1990 World Cup, an event remembered by most people for Gazza’s tears. Paul Gascoigne cried before England lost (on penalties) because he picked up a yellow card which meant he wouldn’t play in the final even if England got through. As it happened, England lost so none of the England players played in the World Cup Final.

My memories of Italia 90 have somewhat different focus. I travelled to Italy on 1st July 1990 to attend a cosmology conference/workshop in a place called Sesto Pusteria in the region known as Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol (South Tyrol). Sesto is a village, set in the Italian Dolomites, primarily a ski resort in the winter but used for conferences in the summer when there is no snow.

I think it was only my second trip to Italy and I had been learning some Italian on the flight. My plane was supposed to land in Venice whence a bus would take conference guests up to Sesto. Unfortunately my flight was diverted to land at Treviso. I missed the bus and decided to stay overnight in a hotel and travel under my own steam the next day.

I found a hotel in Treviso and that night I watched the quarter final between Cameroon and England on my own on the television in my room.

I got up early the next morning and with the aid of the railway timetable supplied by the hotel reception, I set out on a long journey by train. There might have been a quicker way by bus but I was more comfortable doing it by train and was actually looking forward to a bit of exploration.

The route involved four different trains: Treviso to Mestre, then Mestre to Verona, then Verona to Bolzano, then a local (very slow) train from Bolzano up into the mountains to San Candido. The last leg was a little bus from San Candido to Sesto Pusteria. It took me most of the day to get there but I made it without any real difficulty.

I did notice however that on the way there the style of buildings I could see changed from very Italian to very Austrian.

Anyway I arrived in Sesto Pusteria (which is a small place) and found the name of the hotel I was booked in which was Bellavista. I wandered about looking for it – there was no Google Maps in those days – but failed. I did however find the conference centre where the meeting was located. I went in and asked in broken Italian Prego, Dov’è l’hotel Bellavista?

The answer came back in perfect English with a hint of a German accent. It’s down the road on the right, about 50 metres. It’s easy to find because the outside is all white. I was puzzled because I must have walked right past it. Anyway I walked back to down the road and found a hotel with a white exterior. The sign said Hotel Schönblick…

It turned out that my meagre Italian was of no use at all because the locals all spoke German. The South Tyrol has historically been part of Austria. It was annexed by Italy at the end of the First World War and the present border is just a few km from Sesto Pusteria. Attempts to assign Italian names to things however have been only partly successful.

So I made it to the conference, a day late. There weren’t any mobile phones in those days so I’d been unable to contact the organisers so they were quite relieved when I eventually showed up.

And so I saw both semi finals of Italia 90 at the conference: Italy lost theirs against Argentina and England lost on penalties.

After the workshop I travelled with a colleague by car to Trieste to work on a collaboration. During that I remember watching the 3rd/4th playoff (‘Piccolo Finale’) on a big screen from a bar in a public square in Trieste. Italy won that (deservedly). I think I watched the final too, but can remember little about it.

The Joy of Penguin Faeces

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on July 4, 2020 by telescoper

Last night my attention was drawn to an important article on the ArXiv in the domain of biophysics. The title is Projectile Trajectory of Penguin’s Faeces and Rectal Pressure Revisited*.

Here is the abstract:

We discuss a trajectory of penguins’ faeces after the powerful shooting due to their strong rectal pressure. Practically, it is important to see how far faeceses reach when penguins expel them from higher places. Such information is useful for keepers to avoid the direct hitting of faeceses. We estimate the upper bound for the maximum flight distance by solving the Newton’s equation of motion. Our results indicate that the safety zone should be 1.34 meters away from a penguin trying to poop in typical environments. In the presence of the viscous resistance, the grounding time and the flying distance of faeces can be expressed in terms of Lambert W function. Furthermore, we address the penguin’s rectal pressure within the hydrodynamical approximation combining Bernoulli’s theorem and Hagen-Poiseuille equation for viscosity corrections. We found that the calculated rectal pressure is larger than the estimation in the previous work.

That is amusing enough (though admittedly the English isn’t great) but the diagrams are an absolute joy!

*In case you’re wondering about the “revisited” at the end of the title, the authors of the present work present a critique of earlier work by Meyer-Rochow & Gal (2003) in which “the projectile trajectory of the faeces is not taken into account”. This previous paper was awarded the Ignobel Prize in 2005.

One should not pooh-pooh research on this topic and now that we have got to Number Two I for one hope for the speedy production of further outputs in this area.